(Originally posted 24/6/2011)
To top off this week, William Torgerson, author of Love on the Big Screen, has answered a few questions about his feelings about and experiences in the 80s.
Pop 80s: What interests you about the 80s as an era?
William: I’m a 1989 high school graduate who grew up in a very small and remote town where entertainment options were limited. I went to the movies at least once a week starting when I was in middle school, worked as a life guard at the pool in the summers where the radio was on all day, and I spent a fair amount of time in the evenings “cruising,” which meant that I drove in a car the short distance from one end of town to the other while listening to the radio.
Between the ages of ten and twenty I was completely saturated with the stories of the music and movies of the decade. The John Hughes films were very popular then and most of them were set near Chicago which was about eighty miles to the northwest of where I grew up. My parents provided me with one model of how to live a life, (hard working, respectful, keep your feelings to yourself) and artists such as Prince or Madonna or characters like Lloyd Dobler and Farmer Ted from Sixteen Candles gave me a racier or more thrilling version to consider.
Pop 80s: What was the idea behind making the character of Zuke obsessed with 80s movies?
William: I teach writing at St. John’s University in Queens, one of the five boroughs of New York City. My students and I do a lot of writing together and when it occurred to me that I wanted to write Love on the Big Screen we were practicing on how to begin a paragraph. I wrote something like this: “Everything Zuke knew about love he got from the movies, most of them late-eighties romantic comedies.” I spend the rest of the book showing readers how that was true for my character and the sorts of problems one might experience in relationships if one thinks their love life will end like in Sixteen Candles.
Many of us are probably lucky enough to have those sorts of moments but then life continues where in the movies the credits roll up and we get a song that sends us out of the theater feeling great. Even though I was already in the middle of a large project, I threw it aside when I had the idea for this novel. Love on the big Screen was a book that really made sense for who I was, what I was interested in, and the person I had become.
Pop 80s: How much of the book was drawn from your personal experience?
William: Love on the Big Screen is packed with actual details from my life, and as autobiography, it’s a total lie. Yes, I was a college basketball player and there was a player on my team we called “Cheese,” but Cheese and I were and still are friends where in the book Zuke and Cheese are mostly rivals. I didn’t attempt to steal Cheese’s girlfriend, and the balcony never collapsed at any basketball game I attended. The book is a concoction of my experiences, things I’ve heard about, my imagination, and my attempt to subvert all the expectations someone might have who has watched a lot of romantic comedies.
Pop 80s: What is your personal favourite 80s movie?
William: Like my protagonist, my favorite movie is Say Anything. I think it was on the DVD “extras” section that I heard the director Cameron Crowe and John Cusack talking about the concept of “optimism as a revolutionary force.” Cusack’s Dobler character believes in himself, and he believes that he can get Diane Court to go out with him and fall in love. He believes this even when his friends think it’s impossible. There’s that line, “I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.” That’s a moment when Dobler begins to doubt the way he sees life.
I see his holding of the boom box as a revolutionary act of optimism within the story. In this particular case of Lloyd and Diane, the boom box is a revolution against life without Diane (as are the millions of phone messages) and the revolution succeeds. Score one for optimism.
Pop 80s: What 80s song would you blare from a boom-box to woo a woman?
William: On some level I was attracted to the idea of being the rejected suitor, and so the first song that pops into my head is The Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight.” I was of the I’m crushed without you mold, which sought to use persevering devotion as a way of winning a woman over. It’s not actually a strategy that works out or it’s a strategy for love that really takes a long time. I don’t think it produces the sort of love that lasts either. Chicago’s “Will You Still Love Me,” would be another song I’d have to think about if I was whisked back to the eighties and faced with a Juliet up at a balcony window I wanted to woo.